Perhaps Anthony Edwards was always this way, or perhaps this is an effect of the two closest people in his life, his mother and grandmother, each dying of cancer five years ago when he was 14.
But Edwards doesn’t let people in easily. He’s not afraid to tell you as much.
“I’m the type of guy where a lot of people have to gain my trust,” Edwards said. “I’m not just an easy access type of guy.”
There’s only one surefire way to gain that elusive trust.
“My most important quality I look for is loyalty. I’m a very loyal person …” said Edwards, the 19-year-old Georgia guard chosen No. 1 overall by the Timberwolves in Wednesday’s NBA draft. “When you show me you’re loyal, we can start building a relationship.”
So when the Wolves met with Edwards a few weeks ago they had about 24 hours, a dinner and a workout to prove they could rise to that level in Edwards’ eyes. Total trust can’t be earned in 24 hours, but Edwards can at least see if there’s potential in that amount of time.
Since last week, when Edwards called his meeting with the Wolves “excellent” and through the post-draft euphoria, when Edwards’ tone of voice would light up when discussing that meeting, Wolves President Gersson Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders started getting past those walls.
“I feel like I’m going to trust these guys, when I get to know them …” Edwards said. “They’re just cool and laid back. Coach got energy. Gersson got energy.”
With that energy, Edwards said the Wolves “made me feel like I was headed to be the best player that ever played basketball.”
The Wolves have begun the process of unlocking the way to Edwards’ trust. Now can they unlock his potential on the floor?
Planting new roots
One of the biggest worries Edwards’ college coach at Georgia, Tom Crean, had going into the draft was that Edwards would end up in an organization that wouldn’t nurture him as a person.
Given all Edwards has been through, Crean wanted to see Edwards land in a place that was going to treat him as more than a buckets machine. He was relieved when the Wolves took him.
“I think it worked out remarkably well,” Crean said. “Ryan is a hands-on guy, and I think that’s exactly what he needs. He needs somebody who is going to be invested in the relationship a lot more than just touch and go. What happens so many times is you see a player, give him a couple of things and you move on your way. Anthony needs more than that.”
Edwards grew up in Atlanta and attended Georgia to stay close to home. But throughout the draft process he said he was feeling the itch to move away as he entered adulthood, and said he had no problem moving to the Twin Cities. He’s still learning a lot about his new home.
On a Zoom call with reporters after the draft, he had an important question about one of our Twin Cities that he asked in an endearing way.
“Is it called St. Paul?” he said.
The media let him know he was correct, and Edwards smiled in approval.
He has also been getting advice on the area from a former teammate at Georgia, Donnell Gresham, an alumnus of Cretin-Derham Hall.
“He tells me the best thing is the mall,” Edwards said. “Is it the Mall of America?”
Right again. Another smile.
There will be time enough to get to know his new home. Crean said as his new home gets to know Edwards, Minnesotans are only going to like what they see.
“He’s got an infectious personality,” Crean said. “People want to be around him. Does he have to grow up? Absolutely. Does he have to work through mistakes? Absolutely. Does he have a lot to learn? No question about it. But he’s 19 with a great heart and tremendous empathy.”
Where is the love?
The scar tissue from the Andrew Wiggins experience is still fresh for the Wolves fan base. Fair or not, one of the criticisms fans lobbed at Wiggins was how he could be so engaged some nights then look like he’d rather be anywhere else on others.
Entering the draft, this was one of the knocks on Edwards. It didn’t help combat that perception when some quotes he gave in a lengthy ESPN profile made their way around the internet.
“To be honest,” he said in that interview, “I can’t watch basketball.”
Then this: “I’m still not really into it,” he said. “I love basketball, yeah. It’s what I do.”
Crean provided some context from his time with Edwards — and if anybody doubted Edwards’ passion for the game, he said, they’re wrong. Crean said no player he’s ever had would spend more time working out in the gym after games than Edwards, and Crean’s list of former players includes Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade.
“Does he love sitting there watching it for three, four hours at a time, probably not,” Crean said. “I think you’d be surprised how few of kids really do. Now, playing it for three or four hours at a time? That is for sure. I’d much rather have a guy that wants to be in the gym working.”
In that way, Edwards is Gen Z, someone who grew up with the quick satisfaction social media brings through easily digestible content that is short in duration.
Before the draft, Rosas said the most important quality he sought in young players was a passion for the game. Was he scared off by the whispers around Edwards?
“Absolutely not,” Rosas said. “It’s draft season so there’s some narratives out there, but what he’s overcome in life at his age and his motivation to be great through all of that. ... his toughness, his grit, what he’s overcome in life — those were big positives.”
Edwards is aware of these knocks against him. He pledged to be more engaged on the floor. He said he will eat less of his beloved Raising Cane’s chicken and fries. But one slight he takes some exception to is the idea he is a weak defender.
“A lot of people don’t think I play defense, but I feel like I’m a really good defensive player,” Edwards said.
Edwards is 6-5, 225 pounds and has a background playing youth football. His body is NBA-ready at 19, and scouts think he can blossom into a very good defender. On that end of the floor, Edwards takes after an old friend of the Wolves.
“I love the way Jimmy Butler plays defense,” Edwards said. “He’s a dog. He just reminds me of myself. He doesn’t care about who you is or what you got going, he’s going to go at you.”
Building a foundation
Edwards didn’t want to reveal too much about what the Wolves told him during their meeting but did say he was stunned by the amount of information they presented him about where he could take his career.
“The only thing I can say that they brought that is shocking to me is just how they see me in years to come,” Edwards said. “So I feel that was the most important thing. It was just kind of like a college recruitment, you know? Where you’re trying to recruit a player. So that’s what made me a lot more confident, because they were actually doing college recruitment-type stuff.”
Rosas felt a great deal of pride over how the interaction went.
“The attention to detail there was something he had never seen,” Rosas said. “You name it, we covered it. He left that meeting like nobody has ever done this with me. … Our staff did an incredible job of just laying out not only who they are as player, as people but how we saw them fitting in to our organization on the court and off the court. That just really overwhelmed him and impressed him.”
During the workout, Edwards surprised Rosas when at one point his trainer asked him to shoot long two-pointers. Knowing the Wolves don’t like to shoot those, he told his trainer they wouldn’t shoot those on that day.
“That was him on his own, unprompted,” Rosas said. “He gets what we’re doing here.”
After the Wolves picked Edwards at No. 1, the ESPN cameras showed him sitting between two portraits, one of his mother, one of his grandmother. It was his mother and grandmother who helped and encouraged him as he blossomed into an elite athlete, and family that helped him get over the tragic losses.
But Edwards said he would rather smile now than cry when thinking about their legacy.
“I can’t pinpoint when I got to the point where I can just smile,” Edwards said. “I know I’m there now. I never want to go back to the point where I’m just always mad and frustrated. I just keep a smile on my face, no matter what’s going on and just try to stay happy for them.”
There was a lot of joy on Wednesday night when the Wolves and Edwards officially joined forces — with a lot still to learn about each other.
“He’s extremely bright and … there’s a deep process to him,” Crean said. “He’s been through a lot in his life and as he builds up trust and belief, that comes out.”
It all starts with trust.